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The Art of the Cake: Modern French Baking and Decorating Hardcover – 4 Nov 1999

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French cakes are among the most luscious and spectacular in the pantheon of cake baking. In this book, Bruce Healy and Paul Bugat simplify the art form and bring together more than 100 classic cakes.'

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 28 reviews
56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
How to Stuff a French Cake 6 Aug. 2003
By jerry i h - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Please note carefully the sub-title of this book: Modern French Baking and Decorating. French cakes have little in common with American ones. Like its predecessors on pastry and cookies, this baking book on cakes is about the types that you will find in classic, pastry shops in France, and not their American cousins. It is also aimed at the serious amateur pastry chef, not the casual home baker. If you are looking for a book to tell you how to make and decorate a chocolate birthday cake for your children, this is not the book for you.
French cakes are both simple and very complicated; they are also amazing and can be heavenly like nothing else in patisserie that comes in a bewildering array of choices. Simply, a French cake is a cake base cut into layers flavored with syrup, sometimes with a flavoring agent between the layers, a filling and frosting of buttercream (but can also be flavored whipped cream, meringue, etc.), plus many decorative touches. The cake bases used are few in number and not that difficult to make. With simple variations in flavoring and decorations, the cake becomes totally different in taste and appearance. So, once you learn how to make one type of cake, you also know how to make at least a dozen other, totally different cakes. This book is a more or less complete guide for making most of the important, popular varieties of French cakes. I should also note that many of these cakes are ones that Americans will actively dislike. For example, succès brushed with flavored syrup is a French favorite, but is also a sugary, chewy, soggy thing that the average American will probably spit out with the first bite.
The organization is logical and also rather sophisticated. Each chapter starts out with a thorough description of a basic technique, and all the recipes in that chapter are based on that technique. For most recipes, you will also need procedures and recipes in other parts of the book, but the author always gives the page number to go to. The chapters are also arranged from easy ones to the more sophisticated ones; it assumes that you will proceed through the book sequentially, and not skip around. The chapters are: Simple Cakes, Round Sponge Cake Gateaux, Round Nut Meringue Gateaux, Meringues, Rectangular Gateaux, Bavarians (also Charlottes and Mousse Cakes), Logs and Leaves, Filling and Frostings, Finishing Touches, Basic Preparations, and a hundred or so pages of reference information. This is definitely not your mother's cake book (unless she grew up in France).
Sadly, making and decorating French cakes is difficult to do properly, and requires patience and practice. It will probably take you several tries to become successful at any one recipe. The techniques described in this book are very similar to professional ones, and, rightly speaking, are the only way you will have a chance. They have done a good job of describing these professional practices and explaining to the amateur chef how to do them. If you pay attention to what the author says and practice, you will succeed. I do have a few quibbles here and there (potato starch did not seem to improve the pound cake recipes; a flat icing spatula will not lay down an even layer of buttercream inside a cake ring; I find American cake circles to be perfectly acceptable, but have never used or seen a French one), but the information is reliable and of the highest caliber.
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
A triumph of organization 15 Feb. 2000
By Jonathan E Dunnavent - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The most amazing cookbook I've ever bought. It breaks down a seemingly most complicated subject - French Cakes - into their constituent components. These component pieces (genoise rounds, heavy syrup, almond paste) can be made ahead and stored. These parts are then used to assemble the finished cake. The book contains detailed information on exactly how, and for how long, to store each component. Buttercream, for example, can be frozen, in single cake sized portions, for up to 3 months. Heavy syrup will last a similar amount of time, at room temperature. While the structure of most, but not all of the recipes in the book will admittedly leave you with these "leftover" portions, this does not mean that you will waste them. If you only bake a cake once a year - this is not the book for you. If, however, you want to make a showstopping cake at least every other month, there is no other book I could possibly recommend more strongly.
As far as the text goes, detail is definitely the word here. This is the most comprehensive, yet easily readable and understandable book I have ever read on any subject - and I'm a librarian!
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I would give this book a million stars if I could. Just amazing. This book is written by 2 professionals, one American, the other French. After I checked out their first book from a library, I was incredibly happy to find a new book they published. (that first book is out of print) The details in this book are great and I believe we owe this to Mr. Healy. I've long wanted to own an authentic French Pastry cookbook written in comprehensible English. And the recipes... A gold studded, mysterious looking Alhambra (read chocolate heaven), the cake in the cover, a russian strawberry cake brushed with a glistening glaze, a pink art deco piece with sour cherries embedded in its layers.. many beauties and wonderful techniques. This is no Colette Peters, or Slyvia Weinstock kind of baking, this is taste AND art.
My only, only suggestion is for more pictures. Don't get me wrong they already have a few very good pictures , but I wish there was more since many people are not familiar with these cakes and it's always easier to have a picture in front of you. There is a pink cake (can't remember the french name it's got an almond paste covering) the authors have illustrated the steps needed to put it together which I also found very helpful. At the end of the book they have a 2 page pronunciation guide for Americans which is very nice. I am just going to suggest that they add more words cause it doesn't cover many in the book.
I've seen french pastry books going for 100-200 bucks, ingredients measured in liters, grams, forget about them. Start out with this one. This is not a lightweight, nor a suffocating tome, you get a good introduction to french style of cakes. And friends, please throw out that Angel Food Cake Mix, it's time to layer and glaze an Alhambra!
My only wish is that these 2 gentlemen continue writing on this subject. Loved it, highly recommend it to people who have an interest in cooking.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Not Just for Serious & Dedicated Bakers 13 Aug. 2006
By Laura Stokes-Gray - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a book about creating French and European cakes. The recipes have virtually no resemblance to American Layer Cakes, Bundt Cakes, or the "Wilton School of Cake Decorating". Most French cakes are made with a base sponge cake known as a Genoise. This is NOT an American sponge cake. A Genoise contains far less fat than American cakes and is, therefore, drier. A Genoise is typically brushed with a simple syrup which is often augmented with liqueurs or other flavorings. The cake is usually embellished with Buttercream, Marzipan, Meringue, Nut Pastes, Chocolate, Fruit, Bavarian Cream, Glaceed Chestnuts, Mousse, and Praline, among other components. There are some simple recipes in this book, including pound cakes, that can be executed without much difficulty, but most present some challenges and require patience. They are also time consuming. Once you have completed one of these beauties, you will either feel a great sense of accomplishment or tell your family and friends that henceforth, you will be using recipes off the back of a box of cocoa or tin of baking powder. The authors assume that you are at least somewhat experienced, that you and your stand mixer are old friends, and you own a pastry brush.

NEVERTHELESS, THIS BOOK IS STILL A WONDERFUL REFERENCE TOOL EVEN IF YOU'RE NOT A SEMIPRO IN THE KITCHEN! The reference section is full of recommendations and useful information for and about ingredients and techniques. For example, I have always used Grand Mariner when I wanted an orange flavor in desserts. The authors suggest a less-expensive Curacao, saying it has a more intense orange flavor, "making it ideal for flavoring fillings and frostings." Moreover, learning to prepare some of the basic components - buttercreams, pastry creams, rolled fondant, Creme Anglaise, and so forth - are helpful, if not indispensable, in the preparation of American style cakes, as well. Some of the methods for decorating with chocolate are not at all difficult and employ equipment that can be inexpensively purchased at the hardware store! If you're a serious cookbook collector and enjoy reading them as much as gleaning recipes from them, this book should be an acquisition. It is as much cultural enrichment as a compilation of recipes. One of the authors, Bruce Healy, is a former theoretical physicist - one of the main reasons I initially borrowed the book from the library! Such a fascinating integration of careers was too delicious (no pun intended) to ignore.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Best French buttercream recipes ever! 17 May 2005
By Coffee Buttercream - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I'm a French cake enthusiast & home baker. I've been spending a lot of time trying to find the perfect French cake & buttercream recipes, and after reading & trying recipes from several books on the subject, I have to say "The Art of the Cake" is the best.

The book does not have lots of pretty pictures, but trust me, the taste of your first successful "Moka" or "Clichy" would give you enough inspiration to go on.

It took me several tries to perfect the genoise recipes, just because I didn't follow the recipe to the letter. The genoise is drier than the American sponge cake, but it's exactly this dryness that makes it go so well with the heavy syrup & buttercream. I also like the fact that all of the cake recipes call for regular flour, NOT that cake flour that can give such an artificial (or cake-mix-like) taste to the finished cake. However it would have been nice if the author had provided a "white genoise" recipe as well. The coffee & praline buttercream recipes are easy to make and taste just as good as the buttercream from the best local French bakery here. Some of the layered cakes in the book are pretty time-consuming to make, but the end results are well worth it.

One thing about the instructions that I don't like is that they don't give you a time estimate on most of the steps, for example, how long to beat the eggs, how long to stir the egg/milk mixture on the burner, etc. Granted that they tell you the mixture would look a certain way when it's done, but still it would be nice to know how long it usually takes to achieve such state so you don't have to wonder if you're there yet all the time. Also giving a time estimate for every step, or even just a single estimate for the entire recipe, would help you to plan much better.

Still, this is the most usable French cake baking book I've ever owned. It's too bad that the authors do not have more books on cakes, must be because that all of their best recipes are already here!
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